Thursday, 19 December 2013

Thomas Miller Carol Service 2013



The Thomas Miller Carol Service 2013 was held at St Katherine Cree Church, Leadenhall St, on 18th December 2013. The beautiful neoclassical church - the only surviving one in the City - has been extensively restored over the past few years with financial assistance from a number of City institutions including Thomas Miller and is now is a now very fine state of repair. I have written before about its fascinating history, notably here, and earlier posts have links to some of the carols we sing. This year, after the usual get-together over sandwiches in the office nearby, we retired to The Trident, a club in Mitre St, which has been taken over by one of our fellow retirees, Chris Simpson, and is now a well-patronised watering hole serving excellent food backed by Chris's warm hospitality.

Thomas Miller Carol Service 2011
Thomas Miller Carol Service 2010
Thomas Miller Carol Service 2009
Thomas Miller Carol Service 2008

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Coventry Cathedral Carol Concert

The Cathedral seen through the John Hutton West window
A lovely traditional carol concert was held in Coventry Cathedral on 14th December 2013, with St Michael's Singers and the Cathedral choir singing with the Coventry Youth Orchestra conducted by Paul Leddington Wright. For more photos, click here 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Wellbeing of Women City Christmas Fair at Drapers' Hall 2013

Drapers' Livery Hall ringed with stallholders


The Wellbeing of Women Christmas City Fair was held once again at Drapers' Hall on 2nd December 2013, and was more successful then ever.  53 individual stalls were ranged around the Livery Hall, the Court Drawing Room, the Court Dining Room and the Court Room. A percentage of each stall's takings go tho the charity which also charges £5 entry. The Drapers give their hall for free. For photos, go here 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Making the Garden at Old Swan House


The new area for grasses, the yew hedge and the lower terrace and paths (as yet ungravelled)
The garden at Old Swan House has been landscaped over the past two weeks by Brian Dibley, and is now almost finished. The plan was to update the pleasant but rather 80s garden to create distinct rooms including a gravel area in which to grow grasses, wall off the parking area with yew hedges, provide new paths and paving and create an orchard. Most of that has now been done, apart from planting and sowing the orchard and turfing part of the remaining lawn. And it has been too wet to gravel some of the new paths and the lower terrace. More photos will be put up when these are completed.

The urn contrasting with summerhouse

The urn and the borrowed landscape
A new path to the house using paving taken from elsewhere in the garden

Update: The planting begins!

Grasses being placed before being planted. The box are there just to stop the unplanted pots being blown over in the wind

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Favourite Poems - Ithaca


Ithaca


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long, full of adventure, 
full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclop,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when, with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets, and purchase fine merchandise, 
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities, to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old, rich with all you have gained on the way; 
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.

Wise as you have become, with so much experience, 
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1911) 

For more Cavafy, see here 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Richard Shaw 1940 - 2013

Richard Shaw at Southampton University
My old friend Richard Shaw died peacefully on 16th October 2013, having suffered from a brain tumour since March.  A warm and kindly man,  he was one of the City's finest maritime lawyers and a specialist in Admiralty cases. He was a scholar at Bancrofts and read law at Oxford before signing on as an AB on a cargo ship for a voyage to Australia.  After a stint of teaching in Adelaide, he began his City career with Richards Butler and became a well-known admiralty specialist at Elborne Mitchell before leaving in 1979 to start his own firm, Shaw and Croft, with Roger Croft in 1980. His first case was one of the world's largest collisions - the VLCCs Atlantic Empress and Aegean Captain which collided fully laden  in a tropical rainstorm off Tobago, leading to a spillage of oil that is still listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest from ships. Later he was involved with the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion, the Aegean Sea oil spill, the Tricolor collision and sinking and in advising underwriters and the police in tracing the proceeds of the Brinks Mat robbery.

Richard retired from Shaw and Croft in 1995 and went on to teach maritime law at the Southampton Institute of Maritime Law, specialising in marine insurance and salvage (he was the editor of Kennedy on Salvage). He was also active in the British Maritime Law Association and the Comite Internationale Maritime, where he was elected Member Honoris Causa in 2012.

Richard loved sailing, keeping a boat at Lymington near his country home and hill walking, in the company of his fellow lawyers Stuart Beare and Patrick Griggs. Richard leaves his wife Avril, who supported him throughout his long career and looked after him wonderfully during his illness, two sons and a daughter. His ashes have been scatted at Newtown Creek, on the north coast of the Isle of Wight, a place he loved. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Favourite Gardens - Knoll Gardens



Following a new enthusiasm for garden grasses, inspired by the beautiful garden created by Gillian Pugh at The Buildings, Broughton, I have determined to create a small area for them at Stockbridge as part of the landscaping now being undertaken by Brian Dibley. One of the best collections of grasses to see displayed and also for stock is Neil Lucas's Knoll Gardens, near Wimborne. Click here for some more photos.

15th February 2014: Sadly Knoll Gardens has lost two great trees in the storm - a pine and the huge eucalyptus both of which you can see in the linked album.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Harvest Festival


                  Parishioners arrive for Harvest Festival in Litchfield on a fine early autumn day 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Favourite Gardens - The Buildings, Broughton


A lovely garden on the downs overlooking Broughton, where the owners have used grasses to beautiful effect. For more photos, click here

Monday, 26 August 2013

Favourite Poems - Kindness



Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

'Kindness' by Naomi Shihab Nye

I have thought how wise and complete Jewish saying is:  'Kindness shall be the whole of the law'

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Curious Case of the Middle Lane


Does anyone else think that the recent increased penalisation of drivers driving in the middle lane of a motorway is very odd - and even, from the point of view of safety, perverse?

Motorways are the safest of our roads with only 5% of accidents occurring on them*, and it's difficult to believe that driving in the middle lane makes them less safe.

Furthermore, moving regularly into the inner lane (when there are three or four lanes) creates a number of potentially dangerous scenarios. The majority of the risk in motorway driving is in changing lanes or failing to spot the slowing of traffic ahead of you.

Assuming you drive at about the official speed limit of 70mph* you are usually travelling close to the speed of others using the middle lane and can stay there safely for long distances. Those going faster use the outside overtaking lane before eventually moving back into the middle lane. Those going more slowly - often lorries - use the inner lane which has an average speed of about 50-60mph.

If you move into the inner lane, you will very soon encounter the slower-moving traffic and have to slow down or move out again to overtake. Quite often you can't move back to the middle lane due to the flow of cars and have to wait for a sometimes inadequate gap to open up, causing frustration and a possibly risky manoeuvre.

Moving to the inner lane continuously after overtaking in the middle lane leads to a more stressful and risky journey as each change of lane contains dangerous moments and requires careful study of the mirrors to ensure that a car or motorcycle isn't closing quickly on the gap you have selected. Looking often in your mirrors mean that you are more likely for a critical second or two to miss the fact that the cars in front of you have suddenly slowed.

I prefer to remain as safe as possible on motorways and use the middle lane unless there is very little traffic. Why should this attract a penalty?

It is even more odd when the manoeuvre that I find most alarming - undertaking (which when I was taught to drive, was treated as 'dangerous') - is no longer sanctioned.

*At a Speed Awareness Course I attended, the instructors quoted the 5% figure for the safely of motorways and also said that the 'usual' speed of cars in the outside lane was 82mph - which they thought perfectly safe, hence the continuing discussion about raising the speed limit to 80mph. 




Sunday, 21 July 2013

Favourite Places - Plymouth



View from Plymouth Hoe 
Some time ago I put up a photo of the view from Plymouth Hoe of Drake's Island and Mt Edgecumbe on Christmas Day. I spent some time there again this week and found many more beautiful views and places full of fascinating history. It's a city that deserves to be better known. For more photos, click here

Monday, 1 July 2013

Favourite Gardens - Wherwell Village Gardens

The Old Rectory, Wherwell
Ten gardens were open in Wherwell, Hampshire on 3oth June 2013 in aid of the Red Cross. Click here for some more photos.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Favourite Gardens - 5 Burbage Road

5 Burbage Road

I have long wanted to visit the garden at 5 Burbage Road, open only once a year under the National Gardens Scheme, but have never succeeded. This time I decided to e-mail the owners and ask to visit privately, and was extremely happy when they agreed. Rosemary Lindsay herself showed us around, which made the visit even more fascinating, and I was able to take lots of photos.

The garden is brilliantly designed to seem far larger than it is, being divided into many distinct areas with trees, paths, terraces and strong planting so that one can never see the garden as whole, but is drawn further and further in while only guessing at 'what lies beyond'. It's a masterpiece of rich planting and intriguing design.      

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Friday, 14 June 2013

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Destruction of the Winchester College Wingnuts

One of the mature wingnuts
The Nature Reserve
The base of one of the smaller wingnuts before felling


I love to walk in Winchester College water meadows and over the playing fields beside the Itchen Navigation Canal in the area where Keats is supposed to have composed the 'Ode To Autumn'. In one part alongside Brandy Stream that borders the Falloden Nature Reserve, there is a line of magnificent trees, Wingnuts, that I have seen nowhere else. They were apparently planted by Graham Drew, the art master at Winchester in the 1960s; one of the school's iconic dons.

In the past few days most of them have been felled, apparently as part of an attempt to return the area to cattle grazing, a humdrum activity of little interest and originality, and certainly insufficient justification for cutting down such magnificent rare and beautiful specimens. Why could they not have been left? Cattle could shelter under their huge branches. They will apparently be replaced with willows - in which the area already abounds.

Click here for an excellent piece on the destructive work of Natural England and the Hampshire Wildlife Trust in this area by Mark Fisher in September 2009

Click here for some more photos

After writing this piece in June 2013, I discovered Chris Calidcott's beautiful book on Winchester* in which this photo and the lines attached appear as the final end piece.

Chris Caldecott writes: There is an avenue of huge old Wingnut trees along a small brook between the Itchen and the canal that I think is the most perfect place on earth, where I want my ashes scattered. 
* Published by Frances Lincoln Ltd in 2012

  

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

The Arthritis UK Garden
The M&G Garden
The figure from the Arthritis UK Garden - Anna Gillespie - 'To The Limit'.




Click here for some more photos from the centenary show

Farewell Tempo


Tempo, the stylish Italian restaurant owned by Henry Togna in Curzon St, has sadly been sold. Inspired by the restaurant he admired most, the River Cafe, and with a Japanese chef, (Yoshi Yamada, who won the Barilla Pasta Championships in 2012), Tempo became a haven for those who enjoyed its inventive and relatively inexpensive food, its beautiful Rococo upstairs bar and the invariable presence of the owner whose genuine charm and patent good nature (in an industry somewhat lacking in both), made one want to return time after time.
A delicious salad tiede made for a vegetarian friend
The staff were very good too - elegant and friendly (and that includes my daughter; Kei, who worked there for six months and loved it).  Although Yoshi last year returned to Japan, his successor carried on his stylish cooking while the waiting staff continued to perfect their art so that the experience got only better and better.

It's a great pity that it has been sold, and we can only hope that Henry decide to will spread his magic elsewhere.


Ananda Ledoux and Angela Altini

Click here for some a selection of photos taken at Tempo over the years     

Friday, 12 April 2013

A Prayer on Growing Old

Oh Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out somebody's affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful; but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all. but Thou knowest Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips upon my aches and pains. They are increasing and the love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others pains, but help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory but for a growing humility and not a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken. 

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint - some of them are so hard to live with - but a sour old person is the crowning work of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And give me, Lord, the grace to tell them so. 

                                                                                                   A Nun's Prayer C17th

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Early Spring Sunshine

St Cross Mill on the Itchen
The weather has been cold and grey for days, but here the sun came out briefly and transformed the landscape 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Nick Duke 1945 - 2013

Nick in his favourite Irish tweed cap

My dear old friend Nick Duke died on 29th January 2013 after suffering for years from MS and other health problems. A memorial service was held for him at St Peter' Church, Bishops Waltham on 19th February attended by over 200 family and friends. This is his Eulogy.

                                          
                                           Nick Duke 1945 – 2013

Thomas James Nicholas Duke – ‘Nick’ – was born at home in Fisher’s Pond to Tom and Ann Duke on 26th June 1945, following his sisters Jenny and Georgie. Tom was then working in the family milling business that had been started by his father James Duke in 1895 when he bought the Abbey Mill at Bishop’s Waltham on one of the Nine Great Ponds which once provided fish for the Bishop’s Palace.

Hope House, Bishops Waltham
Nick’s grandparents lived at Hope House, the beautiful Georgian house on the lane leading to this church, but retired to Worthing, while Tom and Ann – and the children - moved to Curdridge Croft in 1946, and lived there throughout Nick’s childhood. The estate next door was bought by the Tufnells soon afterwards and Wynn Tufnell actually lived at Curdridge Croft for two years while his parents were abroad, resulting in Nick sometimes referring to Wynn as his ‘elder brother’.  Wynn himself must indeed have felt like one as in later life, as he says that whenever he met Nick on a racecourse, Nick would touch him for a fiver! 


Nick and Wynne Tufnell
Nick followed Wynn to Lysses, the local pre-prep school in Fareham, and then to Twyford, where he became a useful cricketer and tennis player and took up the trumpet – an instrument that he was prone to whip out at parties until quite recently.  As a teenager he also began – as we all did in those days – an immensely happy round of spending a great deal of time in each other’s houses and having parties and dances. Charlie Skipwith says that it was regarded as a poor winter holiday if one wasn’t out at some party or other at least every other night. It was probably around that time that Trevor Trigg, a regular visitor to the Duke house, tells of Georgie getting fed up with her younger brother and locking him in the drinks cupboard before chasing Trevor round the sofa. Trevor says that he was too young to realize that the object of the game was for him to stop running! And when they eventually let Nick out, they found that he had been at his mother’s gin!

Nick went on to Charterhouse, where his closest friend was Andrew Ward, later his best man at his wedding to Jay Jay, and a good friend to Nick for the rest of his life. Nick wasn’t a particularly outstanding student, but these were the days when one’s sporting and social achievements counted for more than academic prizes.  In fact I don’t think that A levels were even graded then. Nick studied modern languages, played the trumpet in the school band and cricket and tennis in school teams and greatly enjoyed his time there. Andrew’s younger brother Toby was his fag, and Andrew made Nick godfather to his own son James, so he can’t have made Toby’s life too awful. Nick always said that if he had one, he would send a son to Charterhouse.

Curdridge Croft
Nick was always in great demand at the parties and dances such as the Hunt Balls – and indeed the Dukes gave marvelous parties themselves, helped by their housekeeper 'Pad' (Mrs Padwick), who looked after them for many years. Friends like Giles Rowsell recall dancing at Curdridge Croft until the small hours in a marquee so large that it appeared to be two-storied! Parties often included really quite innocent games of sardines, and I well remember one such party at the Smalley’s when all the lights were out and we were hiding all over the place when a huge figure loomed in the doorway and demanded to know where Nick was. It was his father Tom, coming to collect him; and the party broke up pretty quickly after that! 

And of course girls did in time begin to play an increasing part in Nick’s life. In those days teenagers really didn’t pair off until quite late; we enjoyed – as Annie Ommaney (now Spawton) put it – ‘rushing around in a heap’ too much. But Nick was definitely something of a magnet for girls and I can well remember some who shall remain nameless coming up and asking me to introduce them to him.  Nick and I never had exactly the same taste in girls, in which I count myself fortunate, as I would almost certainly have lost out! Those who Nick went out with included all the most attractive and interesting of the time, including Janet Stokes, Sally Farmiloe, Sarah Keen (known to us all as ‘Weemus’), Kristine Holmquist, the legendary ‘Hovis’ (Vivien Holt), Rosie Bryans and Nicky Boyle. And of course he later married, in 1975, Jay Jay Syms, the most attractive of all the girls in his orbit. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Sally Farmiloe's Coming Out Party - She is second girl from the left. Herry (who has changed out of his musketeers outfit) is on the left with Penny Hitchcock, talking to Charlie Skipwith (back to the camera) with Nick half-hidden by a chap pulling on his trousers. Photo by Tom Husler

Nick, Charlie Skipwith and I were in the 60’s the self-styled ‘Three Musketeers’, and for one famous party – Sally Farmiloe’s Coming Out party – we dressed appropriately in costumes from Nathan’s.  Fortunately Sally even then had an eye to publicity, and had hired Tom Hustler to take the photos, so some good ones exist with Nick looking every inch a D’Artagnan.


Herry and Nick as Musketeers
In our spare time, we met at The White Horse in Droxford, co-incidentally only a few yards from Stedham Lodge which became Nick and Jay Jay’s home some twenty years later, and right next door to Charlie Skipwith’s home, Studwell Lodge. Charlie drank the local brew, Nick preferred Haig and I drank Coke. It was perhaps indicative of our low level of drinking in those days that the pub also played host to another group of regular drinkers known as ‘The Quarterdeck’, which included Charlie’s father, and at that time no one ever came to grief in the ever - sportier cars that we acquired; our skills perhaps being honed on all-night games of Scalectrix that we played on the race-track set up in Charlie’s squash court. Or more to the point, the car treasure hunts, when the clues were invariably a pub name and the real object of the game was not actually to make it to the finish!

The Fort, Roundstone. Lucie Skipwith, Charlie Skipwith, Rosie Bryans and Ann Duke 1972
The Dukes had a house in Ireland – The Fort at Roundstone on the coast of Connemara – that they visited regularly, usually with friends. Andrew Ward remembers going across with Nick when they were both only 17 and having a marvelous time fishing and shooting woodcock at Ballynahinch.  Charlie Skipwith also remembers staying there and being at a ‘lock-in’ at Vaughan’s Bar in the small hours where the local policeman was leading the singing when they were ‘raided’ by the local Garda from Galway armed with the only breathalyser in the district. Everyone hid behind the furniture and when the Garda entered they gave a cursory look around, winked at the landlord and wished him a happy Easter before departing. Nick loved the Irish way of life and was in his element there, and he wore Irish tweed jackets and a multicoloured tweed flat cap for the rest of his life.

When Nick left school, his father, intending him of course to join James Duke & Son, sent him to work on one of the largest local farms, that of Tom Parker, whose main farm happened to border ours under Old Winchester Hill. In fact Tom Parker’s farms probably bordered most people’s farms in that part of Hampshire! In any event, John Parker recalls that Nick wasn’t an ordinary pupil, there to work as a prelude to going farming, but a rather to get a close up view of farming as a business so that he could relate to farmers when he joined his father. But he does remember - and so do I – that he was made to cover a huge new cowshed at Little West End with slurry so that it would blend more quickly into the countryside!

He was also sent on a number of courses; one, a business leadership course at Newcastle University, set up by the Kellogg Foundation, he attended part time over a period of three years, driving up for two weeks at a time with Giles Rowsell in his Triumph Stag and attending week-long events in Brussels and London. Giles remembers Nick as being very bright and focused and clearly loving the business environment.  In fact at that time the two of them quickly became leading lights at the Farmers’ Club, starting the Under 30s section when Nick was only 24, and then joining the main committee where they reduced the average age by twenty years at a stroke! Nick often stayed with me on his visits to the Farmers’ Club, and it became our habit to go out early to find the best breakfast in London. I think our favourite was the Carlton Tower! But Nick loved business, and I well remember him being at dinner with my parents and a friend of theirs, Dennis Bulman, who was at the time managing director of Texaco, and the two of them having a long business conversation well into the small hours. Dennis Bulman later told my father that he found Nick most interesting and impressive.   

Nick spent a few months working in Leith, which he hated, and he was also sent to run one of their businesses Chipping Norton for a couple of years. It might have been their revolutionary ‘Evenlode’ business, one of the first complete dry dog foods and for a while very successful, and which might have made Duke’s fortune all over again, had not the mighty Mars brought out a competing version, and the firm was slow to put the feed into garden centers and the like. Chipping Norton wasn’t far from Moreton-in-the-Marsh where my cousin Mike Lawford lived training to become a farm manager, and they saw quite a lot of each other there and on runs up to London; in fact Nick gave up his flat in Chipping Norton and lived in the week with Mike’s parents until he returned to Hampshire.  He was later to be best man at Mike and Penny’s wedding when they were living in Hampshire and Mike was working for Neil Fairey.

Nick of course loved cars, as we all did. His father had Aston Martins and his great uncle had raced at Brooklands.  Nick also had the resources of the firm’s garage with a mechanic, Stan, who understood not just lorries, of which the firm had a great many, but also the desire of young men to get the maximum out of whatever they drove. His first car was a very meaty Ford Anglia into which Stan dropped a hot 1500cc engine. Then came an MGB GT, a Triumph Stag, which was always overheating, a Tickford Capri and a Scimitar. In the days of the Capri, he and Ian Hay, who had The Rod Box in Winchester, used to meet for a bit of a burn-up on the Winchester by-pass, the idea being to reach the ‘Shawford narrows’ before the other. His cars were nominally works cars, insured for anyone to drive - and we did. We were even sometimes lent Tom’s Aston Martins, though I’m not sure if he actually knew. I remember taking the DB5 up to London. Incredible to think of that degree of licence today. Nick did have one or two accidents, one on the dangerous crossroads which also nearly claimed Nicky Boyle’s mother, and another when he went ‘all agricultural’ near Hartley Whitney. He also managed to overturn my commuter car, an ancient Austin A30, trying to do a handbrake turn at the end of the farm lane at Harvestgate, but otherwise we all escaped lightly.

Nick as best man to Herry at his wedding to Prue in Sydney in 1971
Nick was never happier than when telling and hearing a good joke and Ian Hay’s rendition of ‘The Dumb Flautist’ would reduce Nick to tears. Nick was my best man and accompanied me to Sydney for my wedding to Prue in 1971, and he was totally in his element there. Not only were Charlie Skipwith and his wife Lucie working in Melbourne, but his cousin Frances - who had married Arthur Johnson a year or so earlier – was able to put him up in Hunter’s Hill. Every night there seemed to be a party, and at all the parties there were new jokes – like the famous ‘Martin Place’ joke - that reduced the company to tears. And Prue’s brother-in-law Peter Crittle, a barrister who was later president of the Australian Rugby Union, and who is probably the best story-teller in the southern hemisphere, gave a speech at my wedding which reduced the entire company to helpless laughter. Forever afterwards, the jokes themselves didn’t need to be told; to the end of Nick’s days punch lines such as ‘You’s a-going to die…’ and ‘Why don’t you? He’s not a dangerous dog’ would crease him up. And, speaking of dogs, Nick’s love of a good line lives on in the name of his English setter, Cranston, which comes from a 1960’s advertisement for Blue Nun drawn by John Glashan – where the squire is fishing on his lake and his butler is standing beside him with the distinctive bottle and a glass on a silver salver. ‘I’ve just brought you a glass of Blue Nun, sir’. ‘Good thinking, Cranston. Just hold it there while I land this killer pike!’ 

Nick in Curdridge Croft garden with a salmon
Nick too loved fishing, and in addition to Ireland, he fished in Hampshire, often with Ian Hay. They used to get up early and go down to a beat just north of Eastleigh, and usually returned with three or four good-sized salmon, which we ate at dinner parties. Those were the days! His shooting was less successful. Andrew Ward remembers inviting him to shoot grouse on the glorious 12th on the Big Moor outside Sheffield. They started walking at ten and completed sweep after sweep of the heather without so much as seeing a bird. Six hours later and exhausted, a solitary grouse took flight in front of Nick, which he missed with both barrels!

Nick was also a good athlete and apart from cricket, he excelled at tennis which we played endlessly, particularly at weekends, on the courts of friends like Johnny Cooke, Nicky Boyle, Belin and Will Martin, Sally and David Wilson-Young and our own. He was also a useful squash player, competing on the ladder that Charlie Skipwith maintained in his squash court at Studwell.

Nick's Stag Party in Botley. Will Martin, Ian Hay, Nick, Charlie Skipwith, Mike Lawford, Andrew Ward. Photo by Herry
Nick’s marriage to Jay Jay in 1975 was a golden June day on which all their friends gathered and the world seemed immutably good. Before the wedding, Nick and Jay Jay had been on holiday to the house in Ireland – on the condition that Nick’s mother Ann accompanied them as chaperone! There was a particularly memorable stag party at Charlie and Lucie Skipwith’s restaurant in Botley, ‘Cobbetts’ for which photos exist showing the company hanging off the war memorial in the High St the small hours in advanced states of inebriation. They moved into a house in Church Lane, Curdridge and the following year Cordelia was born, for whom I was honoured to be a godfather, followed by Felicity in 1978, the year (and the day) they moved to Stedham House in Droxford, where Iona was born in 1982.  They also acquired the first of their English setters, Coon, followed later in the 1980’s, by Luke. Giles Rowsell’s daughter told her parents that he and Jay Jay ‘were the most glamorous couple she had ever seen’.

Nick and Tom Duke
Nick was now managing James Duke & Son, employing about 250 people, and he and Jay Jay travelled quite a bit on business to Royal Shows and Game Fairs here and to farm conferences in Italy, Portugal and Spain. They also attended the Horticultural Trades Association meetings – one in Italy on which they went on a fabulous garden tour.  But their own family holidays were taken mainly at Jay Jay’s family’s house in Cornwall, or on the Isle of Wight, and Nick would come only at weekends, citing the pressure of work. It is perhaps indicative that many people remembered Nick in those days as always wearing a suit. Nick and Jay Jay parted in the early 90’s but remained on good terms and Nick continued to see a lot of his children, ‘The Dukettes’ (so named by Tim Boycott often who used to stay frequently with the family at Stedham) of whom he was very proud, and he delighted in the weddings of Cordelia to Mike Burgess in 2004 and Felicity to Abe Gibbs in 2011 as well as in his lovely granddaughters, Mia, Izzy and Mollie, who he visited in New Zealand in 2007 and who teased him by calling him ‘Grandpanic’. 

Nick on Athassel Abbey winning the Newmarket Town Plate in 1993
In around 1992, Nick was diagnosed as suffering from MS, and as a means of combating the disease he took up riding, which he had learned in his youth but then never much enjoyed. He put himself on a punishing regime by, for instance, riding a bicycle without a saddle, and so fit did he become that in 1993 he famously entered and won the Newmarket Town Plate, the oldest and longest flat race in Britain. In fact, aged 48, he won by ten lengths from of a field of 28 horses!

Nick also rekindled his relationship with Kristine Holmquist (now Yankowsky) in 1993 and visited her for some weeks in California and she also came over the England and travelled with him in France. There was even talk of marriage, but it never materialized. Kristine however kept in touch with Nick, and when he was very ill in April 2011, flew over to see him in hospital, and she’s flown over again to be here today.



Nick and Ann Duke at North Dene
Nick lived the last years of his life at North Dene, Swanmore, the house bought for his mother Ann, who lived there helped by his sister Jenny until her death in 2008. There he managed to go on playing tennis to maintain fitness and mobility until only a few years ago, playing on the local courts. In the last two years he was looked after by his full-time carers – notably Phillip Leboa, who assisted him at Felicity’s wedding - Joey, who is also here today, and Derek.  Phillip describes Nick as being like a father to him. His care required a great deal of organization and coordination, mainly by Felicity, but he was of course visited constantly by Felicity and Iona; Cordelia and the grandchildren coming over from New Zealand whenever they could, which he loved. And of course Cranston was his constant companion.
Nick and Cranston with Cordelia, Izzy, Phillip Leboa, Mia and Mike Burgess at North Dene
Nick was never happier in his latter years than when recalling old stories and of course jokes, for which he had a wonderful memory. Ireland in particular had a powerful fascination for him and it was sad that we were never able to take him back there. It’s at least possible that one of the reasons he loved it so much was that his father relaxed there and was happy and amusing, instead of maintaining the rather stern demeanor he adopted at home. But his love of the old days and the influence of his father did combine to give him some fairly reactionary views; I used to tell him that talking to him was sometimes like listening to the Old Testament, and it was generally pointless arguing with him.


Nick was a charismatic figure, and as Trevor Trigg puts it, had a ‘happy cheerfulness’ about him. Always fun and interesting, he was blessed with good looks, a fine intellect, and sporting and athletic ability as well as a general love of life.  He made many friends – both male and female - and retained them, and although his illness made him necessarily less and less able to socialise, he never complained and stuck doggedly to the conceit that he was ‘fine’ almost to the very end. Even a few weeks ago, he would come out with family and friends, helped by Phillip, to his favourite pub, the Hampshire Bowman, to the Thomas Lord at West Meon and to Stockbridge, and be happy reminiscing about the old days.

I can’t close without, on behalf of Nick’s family, thanking the local community for their great kindness and support. To Cranston’s several walkers of various ages, to the owners and staff in the village shop, who were very supportive, to all those in Swanmore and Bishops Waltham who were thoughtful and helpful in a variety of ways, everything you did was greatly appreciated. 


Cranston
   

Herry Lawford
19th February 2013